A t-shirt that’s misshapen after two washes, a pilling knit, prematurely worn-out crotch jeans: our wardrobes are full of disappointments and clothes we wish we’d never bought. Could this premature wear and tear have been anticipated? A fashion design and production teacher accompanied La Presse to the stores.
“I always shop with my hands,” says Annie Daigle, who became a teacher at the École de mode at Cégep Marie-Victorin after working for Quebec designers and owning a contract clothing business. for several local brands.
“The main threats to the lifespan of garments are fabric failure, component failure, construction failure, accidental damage and color change,” summarized researchers from the University of Nottingham Trent in a lecture delivered in 2015.
Trying to predict these failures is a highly perilous and very difficult exercise. It is even more so for the consumer who, apart from the composition of the fabric and the country of manufacture, has little information on the manufacture and has no way of testing the behavior of the fabric over time. Even for a sharp eye like that of Annie Daigle, there will always be unknown variables that do not place her immune to unpleasant surprises. As proof, the crop top, made in Quebec, that she wore that day became asymmetrical because of the washing less than two years after the purchase.
Paying attention to the fiber and the manufacture nevertheless allows you to have indicators on the quality of a garment. To carry out this exercise, we visited La Baie, rue Sainte-Catherine Ouest in Montreal, which brings together many brands from different ranges and a space dedicated to Quebec fashion as well as a boutique H
Systematically for each garment, Annie Daigle turns the fabric. When it comes to tailoring, the seams are essential. Four-thread overlock, five-thread overlock, French seam, the distinctions can be complex for neophytes.
One can also make sure that the seam is not too tight for the stretchability of the fabric, which could cause it to break; an observation that Annie Daigle made on several garments observed that day. “A seam that doesn’t stretch when the fabric does, that’s something I find outrageous. »
Also avoid seams that stop abruptly, without clinging to anything, as we have seen on the collar of an H brand t-shirt
It was in the same store that we encountered the “cheapest of finishes”. “It’s an inside seam that’s on the outside,” notes Annie Daigle on a $17.99 polyester tank top. This is a point that will break. The fabric around is super stretchy, but not the point. The thin strap sewn on only one side also suggests a short life expectancy for this summer garment.
On the other hand, the French seam of a Ralph Lauren embroidery cardigan bodes well. “French couture, you won’t see that in fast fashion. These are two seams rather than an overlock where we will see the threads. It’s definitely more durable. But there are also overlocks in this piece and according to Annie Daigle, it’s not necessarily a garment that will last long. “I wouldn’t take that guess because the fabric is super thin. There are a lot of openwork parts that will tend to get caught everywhere. » Price of this coin: $275.
For pants and shorts, pay attention to the presence of reinforcement seams in the corner of the pockets and topstitching on the seams of the jeans.
The choice of material has a great influence on the longevity of a garment. The materials most frequently used are cotton and polyester, but around a hundred different fibers (natural, artificial or synthetic) are listed and used in industry. A manufacturer is required to indicate on the label of a garment the main fibers that compose it. As a general rule, Annie Daigle favors cotton, although polyester tends to be stronger and less prone to fading and shrinking.
Also, since polyester is petroleum-based, it releases microplastics during washing, which are found in large quantities in our oceans.
To give it the appearance of wool or cotton, the polyester is cut and the short fibers are more prone to pilling. How to recognize a short fiber? It is matte, while a long fiber is soft and shiny.
Rayon and viscose, more so than Tencel, are prone to fibrillation, a form of wear akin to pilling, says Annie Daigle, which gives them a fluffy texture.
As for the flax fiber, it is generally long and resistant. But linen is prone to wrinkling. By squeezing it in your fist for 10 seconds, you can get an idea of what the fabric will look like after you sit down, for example. This is called tissue resilience. “It’s a good way to decide whether you’re going to want to wear it or not. »
Nowadays, the fibers are often mixed inside the same fabric, but a garment can also be made of two different fabrics that do not have the same composition. This is to be avoided, according to our expert, since these two fabrics could react differently to washing.
“Why spandex in there?” asks Annie Daigle, looking at the label of an H jacket
These days, elastane – also called Lycra and Spandex – is used everywhere. It is no longer just sportswear that contains it, but also t-shirts, dresses and jeans. Even and especially in small quantities, this synthetic fiber, which breaks, reduces the resistance of the fabric to wear, abrasion and washing.
A white fabric printed on the place may one day or another regain its rights. When stretched, the threads are moved, causing white threads to appear.
“The corners don’t fray, there are no creases at the neckline. There are collar corners. Buttons seem solid. It could do with some pressing, but I have no negatives about this shirt [apart from the seams which are a little loose in a few places]. This shirt is one for men sold at H
During this experience, we saw high-end clothing of lesser quality, including a very thin denim jumpsuit from the Parisian brand ba
Because of the specialized machinery that large apparel manufacturers have, the production of T-shirts, shirts and jeans is often standardized, she notes, which blurs the differences between brands in terms of tailoring. “It’s more automated, so it makes for better quality seams.” There is less room for human error. »
According to a US survey by Cotton Incorporated Lifestyle Monitor (2018), 58% of consumers believed that a more expensive item of clothing was of better quality than a less expensive item. However, several studies have shown that you don’t always get what you pay for and that, conversely, low-cost clothes can have a surprising resistance to washing.
T-shirts are an interesting example. Annie Daigle reviewed t-shirts from Ralph Lauren ($59), Hudson North (La Baie house brand, $45) and H
The relationship between price and durability is much more tenuous today than it was in the 1980s and 1990s when fast fashion emerged. By their production volume, several giants of this segment now have access to suppliers who previously only worked with brands positioned on the medium and high end, observes Maximilien Schrub, head of methodology at Fairly Made, a company French company whose mission is to improve the impact of the textile industry. “We realize that a supplier can supply a fast fashion brand like H
It is not always a guarantee of quality, laments Annie Daigle, nevertheless a fervent defender of this local industry. After examining a dozen products from different brands, she detected elements on some garments that could cause them to deteriorate more quickly: seams with inadequate tension, shirt with pretty embroidery without reinforcement behind, therefore more prone to snagging, too wide rounded skirt hem whose fabric may twist after washing.
“We don’t have as much specialized machinery, we don’t have the buying power of big companies and the labor here is so much more expensive that to have competitive prices, you have to cut somewhere.” , explains Annie Daigle. It is still possible to find high quality Quebec clothing. We’ve seen some well-designed pieces. It should also be noted that some designers offer repair services and that many are happy to replace a defective product.
Still, it must have been maintained in the rules of the art. And that’s one of the big unknowns in assessing the lifespan of a garment: will the consumer care for it adequately? “This is an extremely important factor, notes Maximilien Schrub. The same product, if you wash it every time you wear it or once every two times, it has a real influence on its lifespan. » The real impact of reducing washing frequency is difficult to quantify. It is best to wash a garment as little as possible, only when necessary.
While voices are being raised to hold the fashion industry responsible for its heavy environmental footprint, the question of the durability of clothing is almost absent from discussions on obsolescence. Although increasing the longevity of a garment is an important lever to reduce its ecological impact, regulating in this direction is not done by shouting “scissors”.
How many times on average do you wear your nylons before they go bad? According to a survey report by the French organization Halte à l’obsolescence programmed (HOP), in 72% of cases, the tights do not last more than six uses. “Millions of consumers are silent victims of their accelerated obsolescence,” the organization denounces in this 2018 report.
Is this obsolescence planned? Even if, according to HOP, manufacturers can play on chemical additives to make tights more or less robust, it is difficult to demonstrate that their end of life is planned. “Definitions of obsolescence are best suited to a context of objects that can be shown to have a deliberate intent to reduce their lifespan,” says Amélie Côté, source reduction analyst at Équiterre. Whereas in the fashion industry, it is often the quest for low costs that leads to diminished quality.
Thus, Bill 29, presented on June 1 to the National Assembly to fight against the planned obsolescence of certain new goods, includes several household appliances and electronics, but not clothing.
Office de la protection du consommateur (OPC) spokesperson, Charles Tanguay, recalls that they are currently covered by the provisions of the Consumer Protection Act which provide that a good must be free from latent defects. , consistent with the representations that have been made about it and able to serve the purpose for which it is intended for a “reasonable period of time”.
In fact, few consumers mention the legal warranty for clothing products. Less than 2% of the OPC’s interventions in terms of legal warranties relate to the category of clothing, jewelry and accessories. The few cases heard by the Small Claims Division of the Court of Quebec in recent years concern shoes. Who wants to go to court to claim a refund or replacement for a sweater paid for $15, $30, or even $60?
Not to mention the impact on the environment.
If a company can manage to increase the quality of its products by improving their technical characteristics and its specifications, the physical durability of a garment remains difficult to assess. “These are tests that take a very long time to run and a company can’t do that for their entire collection. For some brands, we are talking about hundreds of products,” says Maximilien Schrub, a doctor in process engineering who devoted his thesis to the development of a methodology to predict the lifespan of clothing. He was mainly interested in pilling, since it is, according to a study he conducted, an important cause of wear and premature disposal of knitted products.
Today, he works at Fairly Made, a French company that offers a support service to brands wishing to reduce the environmental footprint of their products.
Fashion Revolution, a movement that advocates for an industry that is more transparent and respectful of workers and the environment, is calling for legislative intervention by governments to end the overproduction and waste of clothing. “The fashion industry doesn’t just make clothes, it also makes the desire we have for them,” says Elise Epp, National Coordinator of Fashion Revolution Canada. Therefore, brands should be responsible not only for the impact of clothing production, but also for the clothing waste caused by overproduction. »
However, regulating the lifespan of clothing would not necessarily get to the root of the problem, she said.
Emotional or psychological durability is therefore also at the heart of extending the life of our clothes. The pieces for which we feel attachment are also the ones we will most want to repair or wear even if they are a little pilled.
“Lifespan is at the meeting point between an industrial sector that must change certain practices, change its approach to the production of clothing, and consumers who must get out of the habit of this abundance of clothing, of this extremely rapid and important renewal”, observes Maximilian Schrub.
By 2024, new clothes sold in France may have to bear a label specifying their environmental impact. To help consumers make more informed choices, a textile eco-score will be calculated taking into account environmental indicators, such as water consumption and microplastic emissions, but also the lifespan of the garment. “If the product passes certain thresholds that will be described and identified, we will estimate that we can attribute a certain bonus to it in relation to these environmental impacts because we estimate that it will last longer,” says Maximilien Schrub. A regulation of the same type could also be adopted soon by the European Commission.